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REALLY SKINNY UNDERDOGS.
March 22, 2002
by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

Did the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament live up to it’s billing?

Did the double-digit seeds pull off the required amount of first and second round upsets (screwing up just about everybody’s office pool bracket sheet)?

 
 

Were there enough buzzer beating, game winning shots to keep fans on the edge of their seats (or couches)?

Answer to all of the above: ab-Saluki!

The Saluki is the official mascot of this year’s Sweet Sixteen Cinderella Southern Illinois University.

What a great nickname – but unless you live within 90 miles of Carbondale, Illinois or are a member of the Westminster Kennel Club, you probably didn’t have a clue what a Saluki was before last weekend.

I know I didn’t. Saluki sounds like something one might order at a Sushi Bar or use as part of a knock-knock joke. "Knock-knock", "Who’s there", "Saluki", "Saluki who?"

I asked a couple of people to take a stab at defining Saluki and received a remarkable range of answers. Everything from a high-tech motorcycle to the new club sandwich at Schlotsky’s. One of the singers in that great new boy band or the latest in French undergarments.

The funny part about it, having absolutely no knowledge of what a Saluki is, was that none of the answers sounded ridiculous.

Though the word may conjure up exotic images, the fact is the Saluki "ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog". (A very skinny hound dog. Somebody should toss that scrawny canine a milkbone every once in a while).

It must aggravate the heck out of the organizers of the annual WKC Dog Show. For 126 years they’ve been parading Salukis around Madison Square Garden in virtual anonymity. And in two days over one long weekend of NCAA action a little known school about 300 miles south of Chicago has put the Saluki on the map.

Of course I think the Saluki has played a large role in making Southern Illinois the crowd favorite as well. SIU athletic gear is selling like hotcakes. And as long as you’re team is out of the tournament anyway, it’s a lot more fun rooting for the Salukis than for the Tigers or the Bruins.

If the Saluki craze winds up bringing in a windfall in merchandise sales, don’t be surprised to see more schools follow suit. Next year’s tournament may very well include the State University Affenpinchers or the City College Schipperkes.

I came close to ordering a Saluki cotton crew sweatshirt myself. The only reason I didn’t is that I’d hate to be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. Though I do know a guy who won’t think twice about buying a "Go Salukis" T-shirt to put along side his brand new New England Patriots jersey and the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball cap he wore once on a golf trip to Scottsdale.

It would behoove the sporting goods stores to wait until Monday before restocking the shelves with "Dawg" merchandise. If history is any indication (and it usually is), Saluki-mania may come to a screeching halt this weekend.

Since the NCAA started seeding teams in 1979, only one 11-seed has made it to the Final Four. That team was the LSU Tigers (ho-hum) in 1986. And no team seeded better than eighth has ever won the NCAA Championship. That team was the Villanova Wildcats (yet another Wildcat) in 1985.

And, to add insult to injury, ‘Spice Girl’, a Miniature Poodle, beat out the Saluki entry ‘One Lucky Lady’ for the coveted "Best In Show" Award at the 2002 WKC Dog Show.

So this weekend is probably the end of the road for the Salukis. If it is, they should be proud nonetheless. They’ve made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Championships and the school is making a killing in Southern Illinois University T-shirt sales.

And we’ve all had the opportunity to learn something in the process.

We’ve learned that Carbondale, Illinois is about 300 miles south of Chicago. We’ve learned that a Saluki is a really skinny hound dog and not a piece of raw fish. And we’ve learned that a Miniature Poodle can be more than just something the neighborhood kids kick around the backyard.

Do I think Southern Illinois has a shot at making it to the Final Four? Nah.

Will I be rooting for Southern Illinois to make it to the Final Four? Ab-Saluki.

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